Science Funding Tops $3M

The National Science Foundation has awarded eight grants totaling more than $2.3 million to University of Dayton College of Arts and Sciences faculty during the last 12 months - supporting science, technology, engineering and mathematics research for the common good. Combined with two previous, active grants, the College's current NSF funding total exceeds $3 million.

“This represents a tremendous accomplishment for the College’s STEM faculty,” said Jennifer Speed, College director for external funding and strategic resource development. “It shows they can compete on the national stage, do groundbreaking research, and that their expertise is valued, respected and in demand by federal funding agencies.”

With an annual budget of $7.5 billion, the National Science Foundation is the funding source for about 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities. Applicants must indicate how their research will serve the American public, in keeping with the agency’s goals to advance the frontiers of knowledge, cultivate a world-class, broadly inclusive science and engineering workforce, and expand the nation’s scientific literacy.

Faculty who won highly competitive NSF awards from Sept. 1, 2016, to Sept. 1, 2017, are:

  • Imad Agha, assistant professor of physics, and Andrew Sarangan, a professor of electro-optics, received $197,768 to create advanced reconfigurable photon transmission devices by combining materials commonly used in Blu-ray discs with new types of nanofabrication and electronic control. This work will be a stepping stone toward providing faster and less costly devices using inexpensive fabrication methods.
  • Andy Chong, associate professor of physics, received $302,735 to develop new approaches to creating lasers that generate ultrashort optical pulses at visible wavelengths. Lasers operating at visible colors will be a valuable tool for medical applications such as general microsurgeries and macular degeneration.
  • Joe Mashburn, professor of mathematics; Lynne Yengulap, associate professor of mathematics; and Jonathan Brown, assistant professor of mathematics, received $35,000 for partial support of an international conference in June on campus intended to launch and advance careers in the specialized field of topology, which is is the study of geometric properties and spatial relations unaffected by the continuous change of shape or size, such as by bending or stretching objects.
  • Ryan McEwan, associate professor of biology, received $183,957 to study the impact of fire activity on forest recovery and climate change in arctic forests in Siberia. Results will be shared with researchers in Amsterdam for inclusion in a circumpolar map of fire activity and forest recruitment, further improving international collaboration.
  • Allen McGrew, associate professor of geology, received $206,620 to determine the mechanisms that drove extreme stretching and expansion of the Earth’s upper crust in northeastern Nevada. The research will lead to accessible educational materials and informational displays about tectonic uplift in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains.
  • Saverio Perugini, associate professor of computer science, and David Wright, associate professor of biology, received $218,556 to develop a new operating systems course to prepare students for the contemporary information technology landscape. It has the potential to better engage students in active learning, improve student-learning outcomes, and broaden participation in STEM education and employment.
  • Chelse Prather, assistant professor of biology, received $346,503 to test the importance of certain minerals in controlling grasshopper and other insect populations. Her work in a Texas tallgrass prairie could help to better predict large population outbreaks, which can cause millions of dollars of damage to pastures and rangeland.
  • Tom Williams, associate professor of biology, received $839,000 to investigate how evolution used so-called “genetic switches” to develop biological diversity. Through this research, computational tools will be refined and online learning resources will be created to aid scientists.

“All of this work combined contributes to improving scientific breakthroughs and advancing scientific literacy,” helping to advance the University of Dayton’s strategic vision to be the University for the Common Good, Speed said.

College faculty with active awards from other federal agencies including NASA and the National Institutes of Health account for more than $1.3 million in additional research funding.

More than half of the new NSF awards fund research collaborations with faculty from other institutions including Stanford University, University of Pittsburgh, Mississippi State University, Colgate University and University of Florida, among others. These research partners account for an additional $1.7 million in NSF funding for the projects, with those awards going to their respective institutions.

“Our faculty have strong, productive partnerships with faculty around the nation and this is a key to success,” Speed said.

For example, the total award for McEwan’s arctic forest research is $1.6 million, including his $183,957 grant and funding to his four collaborators. The project will train about 16 undergraduate students, three graduate students and two postdoctoral scholars, and also provide support for four female scientists, two of whom are early-career.

“Research funding from the National Science Foundation substantially advances our ability to educate UD undergraduate students because it provides transformational opportunities for them to engage in science on the cutting edge,” McEwan said.

University graduate student Eric Borth ’17 spent part of the summer doing research in a remote region of Siberia. Funding from McEwan’s lab through the NSF Office of Polar Programs will support a second research trip there for Borth next year.

“This is an incredibly rare opportunity that highlights the professional development possibilities we can provide students when we engage in answering deep scientific questions,” McEwan said.

Speed said the College’s recent NSF funding success can also be attributed to the expanding capacity of both new and longtime faculty, increased support during the application process and a greater University emphasis on the value of sponsored research. The College is the only academic unit within the University that has a full-time staff person — Speed — who supports extramural funding.

“I try to act as an advocate, run interference and get people the information they need to prepare a competitive application,” she said.

Faculty interested in applying for grants, fellowships and sponsored research are invited to visit the College grant proposal process website.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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